I Sit by the Fire
Joyce Matthews Hampton
Here by the fire, I remember the day I watched your hands.
“We’d like some crab dip,” you said to the young waitress.
“Yes, sir, right up. Anything else?”
“Um, it’s our anniversary, maybe a wine list?”
The waitress pushed her unruly hair from her face, and asked, “Oh, how many years?”
Looking at me, her eyebrows raised.
I smiled. “Five.”
“Congratulations! We are so thrilled you’ve decided to celebrate at the Anvil.”
She had no idea, no way to realize we had stopped there five years prior, the night you gave me the ring. She could not have known our connection to the restaurant.
“Now, tonight is for celebrating,” you said as your fingers stroked my arm. “What would you like to do after dinner?”
“The wine list,” the waitress said, “and our famous crab dip.” She had returned without warning. “Enjoy. Your entrees should be ready shortly.”
“I guess a movie,” I said.
“Did you check what’s playing?” You asked as I intentionally focused on your eyes. I knew that to acknowledge the trembling hand would only serve to frighten us both. You made efforts to share the crab dip with me. I recall how your blue eyes reflected the candlelight that night. The shaking hand, I dismissed. Odd, I don’t remember a movie or if we went home to make love after dinner. Now, sitting by the fire, I recall the hand that you struggled to control.
The fire fills the house with the aroma of wood smoke. The smell brings to mind time together at campfires. I sit and soak it up. I sit by the fire and take the fragrance of the burning wood into my lungs.
The physical process is nearly complete now just as I remember it on that day we took our girls to buy their school shoes. Yearly we made our pilgrimage to Winchester. Wilkins shoe center could fit them both, Lindsey with her narrow feet and Chelsea’s wide. So many choices, it overwhelmed them. Once they had accomplished the choosing and trying on, nothing was left but to pay and get the girls their lollipops. With great excitement each trotted behind Daddy to the cash register at the front of the store. I sat, given the task of gathering old shoes and socks with dark stains on their bottoms, shed for the store sock. Lindsey was sure they were far better than her own and Chelsea followed. Now, with you they awaited the lollipop. Thrilled again with choices, they reached into the jar independently. But of course, the inevitable color war began.
“Mommy!” Lindsey squealed.
“Coming Linds.” I made my way toward them. I decided to move on past the ladies shoes, though I would have liked looking for just a minute. But, I’m reminded that my attention is required elsewhere.
“No, Mommy. I want the red one, I saw it first,” Chelsea said.
Now, in time to referee another struggle of the two wanting the same thing and only one left, I look to you to see how close we may be to our departure.
With my eyes fixed on you, I spoke to the girls.
“Girls, let’s not fight over the candy. I’m sure it’s all good.”
As I spoke, all I could see was your difficulty with the pen. It seemed I watched you with someone else’s weary hand, writing in the checkbook. Determined, you continue, but the hand will not cooperate. Finally, the writing completed, and the checkbook tucked into your jacket pocket, we leave the store. I tuck the scene away as well.
The wood begins to crack as I sit here by the fire. The noise is so subtle I seldom notice. But on this night my senses remain awake even though I would like to let them drift to another place. I sit by the fire and listen for the random pops and cracks. The mingling of the cracks, and bits of wood toppling over one absorb me. This is the third winter with the wood stove and the warmth it brings into our home. Just a year ago, you sat in your chair and the two of us watched the snowfall closing, stores and schools. We made the fire and settled in for a day of reading. You stretched your long legs onto the ottoman. Deep you traveled into the book you held as you sat with your body molded to the chair. A log managed to roll out of the stove and onto the floor while smoking. Startled, I lunged toward the burning.
“What was that?” you asked.
“Oh, the log rolled out!” I said, my feet already headed in its path.
“Help, honey, it’s going to burn the floor.”
I was sure you were on your way; soon you would be next to me, to help. I could always feel you beside me before, but this time was different. What I felt in this moment was your absence. I moved the fallen screen that normally covered the wood stove opening and noticed you were not there. Confused, I turned toward the chair where you sat with your book.
“Chuck?” I wondered what had happened. You had tried to get out of the chair, but something had prevented it. Although the log continued to burn, I watched you take your hands and move your right leg, placing your foot against the floor. Somehow, now upright, but immobile, you stood, looking at me. You did not move. Knowing now that you could not move any further to assist me, I lifted the log back into the stove with the help only of the poker. The floor survived, and needed only a sweeping. I collected the broom and dustpan from the hall closet. The soot disappeared with just a few strokes of the broom while you watched, frozen. At last, I could sit by the fire once again, and feel its warmth. Yet, we both knew this time there would be no escape, no pretending not to see. My eyes met yours as I returned to the loveseat and without words we ended our rejection of the obvious. I sat by the fire, and you stood, unable to move.
I sit by the fire and the winds blow and the temperatures dip. The house reflects our preparation for the holiday only two days away. Presents cascade in piles under the tree and ornaments glisten in the lights. I want to pray again, to beg the almighty for this to pass over us. Just as I had prayed before. Oh, my mind knew there had been no mistake, but my heart took to its roots and prayed anyway. The prayer answered was not the one I sought. But the divine responded and somehow knew what I needed. The fire burned, and my heart began to accept what my mind already knew. That life had forever changed.
Now, you wondered what each day would bring with new apprehension. Would you walk your daughters down the aisle? Would you continue to support your family? Will a day come when you cannot move on your own? The fire burns, and I take your hand in mine. It does not shake, and I hold it close.
About the author:
Mrs. Joyce Hampton is a writer of creative nonfiction and fiction. She received a WV Writers Honorable Mention in 2011 for her short story, “By the Fire”. In 2012, she began regular readings at the Black Dog Coffee Co. with fellow writers. Joyce attended various writer’s workshops and conferences including the Yale University Writer’s Conference in New Haven, CT. She holds an MA from West Virginia University. She lives in Jefferson County, WV with her husband, Chuck, their two daughters and two spoiled dogs.